Category Archives: future

Pirate Party: success at last!

Pirates are thriving, and it may be a good thing.

On December 2, Iceland’s President mandated that Pirate Party Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir form a government. In the October 2016 general election, the Pirate Party came in third, but the two top vote-getting parties, the Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement, failed to build a coalition large enough to run the country. It is now time for the Pirates!

Yes, Iceland has a Pirate Party. As the Pirate Party website notes, it is patterned after the Swedish Pirate Party.

The UK established a Pirate Party in 2009, again patterned after the Swedish party. Founded in Manchester, it espouses civil liberties, privacy, direct democracy, and other very sensible things, constrained only by the somewhat strange name. It has never managed to get anyone elected to the UK parliament, but a quick read of the pamphlet distributed in Manchester for the 2015 election demonstrates a very workable set of policies:

What is the Pirate Party? "We believe that being a pirate means you are independently minded and independently minded politicians are what we need right now. If you believe most politicians are crooks, then maybe it's time to try the Pirate Party. Think different, vote different."
What is the Pirate Party? “We believe that being a pirate means you are independently minded and independently minded politicians are what we need right now. If you believe most politicians are crooks, then maybe it’s time to try the Pirate Party. Think different, vote different.”
Platform of the Pirate Party: end mass surveillance, respect privacy, basic living income for all, openness and transparency in government, free health care, broadband for all, education as a lifelong right.
Platform of the Pirate Party: end mass surveillance, respect privacy, basic living income for all, openness and transparency in government, free health care, broadband for all, education as a lifelong right.

Given the state of recent political rhetoric in the UK and the US, consider the Pirate Codex. It lays out a simple set of principles that, despite being political, are remarkably non-partisan.

And it runs on batteries II

A previous tribute to a red BMW i3 noted that it runs on batteries. Very cool, and very rare.

But in a single morning, this silver BMW i3 and a silver Honda Civic plug-in hybrid were spotted at the same charging station inside a parking garage at George Mason University.

Silver BMW i3 electric car at charging station.
Silver BMW i3 electric car at charging station.

 

Silver Honda Civic plug-in hybrid at charging station.
Silver Honda Civic plug-in hybrid at charging station.

Fun fact: if the US instantly retired all conventional automobiles and started using electric and hybrid vehicles exclusively, it would instantly end US demand for foreign oil. This would not only be good for the environment, but also fundamentally change global geopolitics.

This would also put pressure on Tesla to market more affordable vehicles. Tesla would be pleased.

Narrative arc of plumbing

Much has been written about how writers plumb the very depths of their souls in an attempt to construct a narrative. But far less attention has been devoted to the narrative arc of plumbing.

You might say, “But plumbing is just plumbing! It’s just pipes and valves and water, governed by gravity, and about as interesting as plumbing!” But — that is no longer true. Modern plumbing is modern. Not only is it modern, it is even computerized, which means that, for the first time, plumbing can even crash.

But can plumbing communicate? When you move to rinse your hands, and the automatic soap dispenser dispenses soap onto the back of your hand, necessitating another rinse, and prompting more soap to be sprayed on the back of your hand, is this the first stage of a robotic rebellion? When you wave your hands around, attempting to trigger a flow of water (and incidentally looking like an idiot to anyone who might see you), is this proof that we have not only lost control of our senses, but also over the fundamentals of toiletry, learned long ago as toddlers?

Yet for all the frustrations that this new, improved plumbing might have to offer, it has lacked, except for the occasional odd, plaintive beep, any identifiable means of communication. Until this year, that is, when, with the help of Post-It notes, plumbing attempted communication.

The first note was fairly simple and to the point: “NOT WORKING.” It wasn’t immediately clear if this indicated a failure or a labor stoppage, but in any case, it was descriptive, and accurate.

Note: you can click on any photo for a larger view.

"Not working." A simple statement indicating either a labor stoppage or a functional failure.
“Not working.” A simple statement indicating either a labor stoppage or a functional failure.

You might quibble over the phrase “labor stoppage,” as it isn’t clear that plumbing can perform labor. However, since plumbing transports water and waste, and most of us would prefer not to do that, it is reasonable to conclude that work is being performed, and therefore, it can be generalized as labor.

A few days later the communication took an intriguing turn:

An additional Post-It note clarifies the original message of "Not working," expanding it to "Still Not Working." Yet there is some doubt of intent, as this could mean a continued work stoppage rather than a functional failure.
An additional Post-It note clarifies the original message of “Not working,” expanding it to “Still Not Working.” Yet there is some doubt of intent, as this could mean a continued work stoppage rather than a functional failure.

The addition of the word “STILL” makes it increasingly unlikely that the plumbing is on strike. It isn’t entirely free of ambiguity, but as the sink hasn’t been functional for several days at this point, there is evidence of a catastrophe in progress.

The next day a new note, “HAS BEEN REPORTED TO FACILITIES,” suggests an escalation, either an attempt at negotiating an end to the strike or, more likely, a realization that the failure is beyond the plumbing’s power to overcome without assistance. It is gratifying to see that humans still have a role to play.

"Has Been Reported To Facilities." Either the plumbing is attempting to negotiate a work stoppage with Facilities or, as it now seems likely, there is a functional failure and this is a plea for help.
“Has Been Reported To Facilities.” Either the plumbing is attempting to negotiate a work stoppage with Facilities or, as it now seems likely, there is a functional failure and this is a plea for help.

But the next day the narrative arc erupts into an actual arc, drawn across four additional Post-It notes. At the apex, a simple “And yet!!”

Several things should be noted at this point:

  1. Every Post-It note is a different color or shade.
  2. The first note was done with a marking pen, the latter ones with a regular pen.
  3. The first three notes were all upper-case block letters.
  4. The fourth note not only featured upper and lower case letters, but also punctuation, and the somewhat crude but still recognizable arc, complete with a subtle arrowhead at the end.
  5. The tone has changed from a plain declarative sentence, to a somewhat desperate plea, then moving to a very specific attempt to contact a particular group of people, and finally on to pure sarcasm.
It is now clear that this is an on-going plumbing disaster, with the plumbing going beyond simple pleas for help and resorting to sarcasm.
It is now clear that this is an on-going plumbing disaster, with the plumbing going beyond simple pleas for help and resorting to sarcasm.

There are courses that teach you how to build a narrative arc, yet this commonplace plumbing, in a rather mundane commercial building, mastered the basics over little more than a week during one brutally hot summer month. At this rate, more advanced plumbing devices — say, a dish washer or clothes washer — may soon be churning out literature that scrubs away our preconceived notions of narrative flow. Complete with a rinse cycle.

Update

Maintenance did come by but their major activity was to remove the Post-It notes. The sink, undeterred, started a Faucet Aid charity solicitation: “Give generously so that unfortunate plumbing can once again experience improved hydrostatic pressure and flow. If it was good enough for farmers, it should be good enough for plumbing. Donate now: http://fixtheflow.org.”

Faucet Aid, akin to Farm Aid, seeks to increase awareness of the plight of poor, broken plumbing and raise funds for their support and repair.
Faucet Aid, akin to Farm Aid, seeks to increase awareness of the plight of poor, broken plumbing and raise funds for their support and repair.

Update again

Maintenance did not take kindly to the Faucet Aid charity, so the sink turned to donations from colleagues.

“Annual Leave Donation Request. Please help Sink #1 with a leave donation. Sink #1 has been out of work for some serious plumbing deficiencies for over a month. It has used up all of its annual leave. Thank you for your kind donations!”

In a major, bitter bout of ridicule, the sink sinks to new lows with display of a diploma in dust gathering.
In a major, bitter bout of ridicule, the sink sinks to new lows with display of a diploma in dust gathering.

Update yet again

Maintenance once again removed all the notes — except the ever-present “Not Working” Post-It.

The sink’s spirits seem to have sunk to new lows, with the posting of a “Certificate Sinkus Deadus. This Certifies that Sink Sank Sunk Has successfully completed all requirements and qualifications for the Master of Arts in Dust Gathering.” Signed August 18, 2016, by Dri Gulch, PhD.

Sink #1 requests annual leave donations to help offset the financial burdens of being out of work.
Sink #1 requests annual leave donations to help offset the financial burdens of being out of work.

Final update

Shortly after the certificate posting, the sink was repaired and all signs, Post-It notes, and other messages were removed. It took over a month.

Urgent: escaped tribble!

After spending a week at Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, Washington, it was somewhat disturbing to find this on my desk:

According to the printing on the side of this container, it should contain a tribble. But it obviously does not. The tribble, in fact, appears to have escaped. Note the warning at the bottom: "Please do not feed." This could be bad.
According to the printing on the side of this container, it should contain a tribble. But it obviously does not. The tribble, in fact, appears to have escaped. Note the warning at the bottom: “Please do not feed.” This could be bad.

The obviously empty container claims to contain a tribble, an alien species from the planet Iota Geminorum IV. Tribbles are soft, furry, and purr or coo when petted. They have a calming effect on humans.

But they are also born pregnant, and will reproduce as fast as they can eat. They also eat all the time, which means that their movement and diet should be severely constrained.

Which means this empty tribble container presents an urgent threat to everyone in the building, and especially to kitchen refrigerators, stashes of food squirreled away in employee desks, and other possible sources of food. For more information, consult this synopsis of “The Trouble With Tribbles.”

Potentially harmful asteroids

Very informative chart, but also very pretty. Image is from NASA. Potentially harmful asteroids (full size).

Very pretty illustration of lots of big, scary, planet-killing rocks in our solar neighborhood.
Very pretty illustration of lots of big, scary, planet-killing rocks in our solar neighborhood.